We had a plan. It was a good plan. There are many iconic scenes in Iceland, we wanted to capture as many as possible. That was our plan, 15 days, two major photo shoots per day, rewarding us with 30 wall-worthy, gallery-worthy photographs of iconic scenes. Unfortunately, our plan was thrown out the window on the first day. We had torrential rain for the first few days, wiping out all of our planned photo shoots on the famous Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We then had warmer than expected temperatures but overly cloudy conditions, wiping out most of the golden light. It was even cloudy most nights, obscuring the Aurora Borealis. Bummer!

We had to come up with plan B, plan C, and most of the rest of the alphabet. Instead of obsessing about the iconic scenes (we would still photograph them), we would photograph whatever caught our eye. Many times, we would stop at the side of the road when the light hit something just right. We would shoot it and then move on. We did this over and over, capturing what we call, the other side of Iceland. In many cases we were happier with these photos than the iconic scenes. Here is a map of Iceland with each photo location numbered.

1) As we were driving around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, enduring non-stop foul weather, we came across a beautiful mountain scene. We might not normally have stopped to photograph a scene such as this, especially during the mid-day light. But the fall colors were nothing short of amazing, the rain saturating the colors, taking an ordinary scene and making is special. 

The fall colors were amazing, even without any trees.

2) We fell in love with basalt columns. Who wouldn’t with their erect, hexagonal cross-section. Just one by itself is pretty cool but when there are many, the fun begins. In Iceland they are plentiful and come in all sorts of configurations. They cozy up to waterfalls, hang out on beaches, and sometimes populate an entire peninsula.

These columns buttressed a cliffside just a little bit off the main road. The fall color explosion in front stopped us in our tracks.

3) As we were driving north from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, continuing on our circumnavigation of the island, we saw some bright colors off the side of the Ring Road (A1). We pulled over on a gravelly side road to see what we could see. The colors were amazing offset by the blackness of the lava and the greenness of the moss. We could have stayed there all day shooting scenes large and small but we had an appointment with Hvitserkur, an interesting sea stack, one of the major shoots we had planned. [See recent post on Minimalism.]

Do you think there is too much color for a photo?
(red, green, yellow, orange, and black)
The vibrant orange of the tree set against the rick green and black makes for amazing contrast.

4) Based on a recommendation from Mads Peter Iversen we visited a not well known, non-tourist attraction called Kalfhamarsvik, a haven for basalt columns. There were so many of them all around we had trouble picking out ones to photograph. You might be asking who Mads is? He’s a vlogger from Denmark, focusing on landscape photography in Iceland. We have watched all his videos (and there are many) using some of his recommendations and tips for shooting in a specific area. Without ever meeting him, he has become a good friend of ours. Check out his YouTube page: Mads

5) At one of our stays, the owner had a farm. And on that farm were horses, Icelandic horses. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am afraid to be near horses, especially boisterous ones. Perhaps it had to do with a fall I took as a little kid. Perhaps an animal 10 times my size rearing and baring its teeth also contributes to my fear. But, for some reason, the horses on this farm didn’t bring back any of the old fears. With my newly found courage, I headed into the fields looking to photograph them.

The dog, named Draca, teased the horses with malicious joy. All of them were afraid of Draca making it very difficult to get close.
Even when all of them charged me, I was unafraid. As they encircled me I realized all they wanted to do was play.

6) The first time we visited Iceland we barely saw any of the glaciers due to the fog and low cloud cover. We were much luckier this time. As we were driving to or from Glacier Lagoon we had a clear view to the glacier. And, it had interesting clouds above. How lucky is that? If we waited for sunset, the odds are the clouds would fully engulf the glacier. Right then was the best and only time to capture this scene. So, we did.

Who needs sweet light anyway?

7) A long the drive from the town of Vik to Reykjavik there are endless fields of lava covered with moss. Last year moss was a light tan color making for very uninteresting photos. With the amount of rainfall over the past few weeks we knew the moss would be vibrant green. My goal was to take a photo that depicts the feeling of endlessness, green mossy hills going off into the distance. My first attempt was exactly this but it was a failure as the photo was just green moss. It needed an end point such as mountains.

Do you think the photo would be as good if all the moss were a light tan color?

8) We heard about a hike down a beautiful gorge that sported interesting spires and a waterfall at the end. It sits just behind a campground (Pakgil) many miles down a dirt road numbered 214. This road started right at our hotel and ends at the campground, so it was very unlikely we would get lost. As with most of the dirt roads in Iceland it was very gravelly and pitty and contained many blind hairpin turns. After all the difficult driving, it turned out the hike, though nice, was all of 250m and the waterfall was very small. Luckily, the drive there contained spectacular scenery.

This is the beginning of the hike – you can see the path on the right. In fact, you can see most of the hike!

9) Most people make the effort to get to the Black Sand Beach and I don’t blame them. With its basalt columns, sea stacks, and rich black sand, it is a tourist (and photographer’s dream). However, it can be quite crowded, especially during the evening. Instead of going there we stopped at a local village church (named Reyniskirkja) on the way. It is lit at twilight, set against a dark mountainous background, making for an impressive photo.

We avoided the crowds and got a nice photo.

10) As you can probably tell we have fallen in love with Iceland. It’s beauty is unsurpassed. By the end of our trip we started considering buying a place. The big problem is Iceland is very expensive, a nice home way beyond our means. But, if we look for a more modest home, maybe we could make it happen. We found this house, replete with turf roof. I know it looks like a shack but what do you think?

It even comes with a flock of birds that fly by every so often.

11) We were getting closer to the end of our trip and our circumnavigation of the island. We motoring along thinking of what we would have for dinner on our final night. Whale? Horse? I wasn’t paying much attention to my surrounding when something caught my eye. A fence full of bras. Kathryn did not notice this at all, I guess it is a guy thing. While photographing this sight I noticed the fence was sagging quite a bit, probably due to old age and gravity.

When you run out of waterfalls, black sand beaches, basalt columns and horses, there is always a bra fence to shoot.

Update to “The Icelandic Marshmallow” written during our visit a year ago. On this trip, I was hoping to see and visit with my marshmallow friends. As we are now into fall there were less of my mallow friends about, getting ready to hibernate for the winter. But, to my great surprise, there was a new species I had not seen before.  I can imagine it happening one evening, out in the fields a licorice marshmallow started feeling a bit lonely. He’d always fancied the spearmint but was unsure how she would respond. Then one morning a new species was begot, half licorice and half spearmint.  I’m very glad to witness this new creation.

You can see a spearmint way in back, perhaps the mother for these darling children?

What do you think about the scenes that caught our eye, our non-iconic shots? To me, they are definitely the other side of Iceland.